Walking Toward the Mountain
Forgive the "taste of home", please. When searching for a mountain image to include, I briefly considered a variety of peaks. Wikimedia has a huge array of creative commons images of mountains. Peaks from all over the world. Tall crags. Famous mountains. Gorgeous photos.
So I picked Camel's Hump instead, this relatively low mountain in Vermont. It's not particularly famous, but it's a great hiking site. Amazing trails, and some great faces for climbing if you're into that. Am I still missing Vermont a little, since I'm including a Vermont mountain as my focus image? Yeah, probably. ;)
Neil Gaiman made an outstanding speech last Spring. He went before a bunch of students graduating from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. If you haven't listened to the whole speech, I can't recommend it strongly enough. There are few speeches I've heard which are so down to earth and inspirational at the same time.
Here's the video, if you'd like to watch now. It's about twenty minutes long, and worth every second of the viewing:
But the part I wanted to focus on is at about 3:40 into the video. There, Neil talks about his goal - his aspiration to be a writer, to make a living telling stories. And he uses the metaphor of a mountain. He envisioned that goal as a distant mountain. And, he says, he constantly asked himself whether new opportunities he found took him closer to the mountain...or farther away. If something brought him closer, he took that path. If it brought him farther away, he passed. His entire journey, then, was a walk toward his own personal mountain.
It's a great parable for artists of any sort, but of course because the original metaphor related to writing, it works brilliantly for us storytellers.
David Farland wrote a related piece recently, in his "Daily Kick in the Pants" series. Titled "Make Writing Your Only Plan", David discusses how many writers set themselves up for failure by having "backup plans". They end up building careers in the backup plans, because frankly it is easier and safer to build a career in just about any career with a steady paycheck than it is to survive as a freelance storyteller. We become addicted to those paychecks, to the (false) security of knowing we have money coming to us in a consistent and predictable manner. I say "false", because we all know that those jobs are not really secure - they can and do go away - but the consistency feels like a secure safety net.
So we settle into that job, and it starts soaking up more time. We get a little more pay, get married, have kids, acquire a mortgage, pick up more bills (which make us more reliant on that paycheck), and over time life simply erodes what was once the real goal: writing stories.
Oh yeah. Been there. I think many of us have. It's a struggle to maintain a focus on writing in the face of heating, electric, and cell phone bills.
David suggests that we remember we are writers first. He says "If you’re stocking shelves in a grocery store, see it as a means to an end. Remember that you’re a writer first. You only stock shelves to pay the bills until your writing career takes off." And of course, the same thing is true whether you're stocking shelves or pulling down six figures in a fancier career. If your goal is to be a storyteller, then THAT is your profession, and anything else you are doing to earn income is simply a means to an end... A way to keep food on the table until you succeed at your primary career. It's hard to make that shift in focus. It takes effort to shift your priorities and still keep your job. But ask yourself: does your job take you closer to your personal mountain? Or farther away?
And to tie it all up, Dean Wesley Smith recently wrote what is perhaps the best blog post of writing advice I have ever read. Titled "The New World of Publishing: How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013", Dean goes into his views on how to go about building a career in this new environment we find ourselves in. He talks about a bunch of paths one can choose, and a lot about the myths and pitfalls which can stand in the way of a writer trying to build a career. And then he goes on to summarize a bit, saying:
Telling a good story is an art form. As with any art, the art takes time to learn.
Make writing new words your main focus. Make learning business and craft your secondary focus. And get your work out for people to read.
Don’t get in a hurry.
It really, honestly, is that simple.
And that hard.
Neil Gaiman says "Make good art."
David Farland? "Make sure that each day, your writing takes precedence."
And Dean says that it really is that simple - and that hard.
Which pretty much sums up everything, if you think about it. ;)
Now go write.